NEW ORLEANS, LA.,Â – If you ever have fleeting thoughts that it might be OK to judge that book by its proverbial cover, hang on until you meet Chloe Valdary.
On the outside you’ll see a young, college-aged African American woman who grew up in a Christian home in the heart of the South. But get her talking and you’ll hear an ardent Zionist, a dedicated fighter for Israel who has taken her message to the streets of America.
In between her studies and her ever pressing schedule of speaking gigs on college campuses and attending rallies, Valdary took a few minutes to share a little about herself and her fierce mission.
Sheryl Kay: Please paint us a picture of Chloe growing up.
Chloe Valdary: I was born and raised in New Orleans, in a family of five girls. I had a relatively normal life.Â My Mom and Dad raised us right, taught us to hold up certain things in high esteem. We were taught to walk upright and pursue truth and pursue the good. In terms of my personal interests, I grew up studying film. I was originally going to go to school for filmmaking and screenwriting because I’ve always been into that.
SK: How about Chloe today?
CV: I turn 21 later this month, and go to the University of New Orleans, where I’m a rising senior. In terms of what who I am today, I am a Zionist. I am a pro-Israel activist and what that entails is attempting to educate people about Israel, teach people about Zionism, what it is, explain it in the broader context of other civil rights movements like it and spread it as much as I can. I’m also interning at CAMERA- the Committee For Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Because I have had experiences on the college campuses with dealing with anti-Israel forces but also with successfully putting on pro-Israel events, I am able to gauge what is effective at universities from an activist perspective.
SK: So just what brought a young non-Jewish African American to be one of the most fervent supporters of Israel, and a leading inspirational speaker on Zionism?
CV: Look, you know, really it’s a whole host of things. I grew up observing Shabbat and keeping, you know, kosher dietary laws and biblical holy days as proscribed in the book of Leviticus. That naturally gave me a propensity to love and admire the Jewish people and Jewish culture. So I read and became fascinated by Jewish literature throughout high school. I particularly became enamored with the writings of Leon Uris who is my favorite author.Â Reading all of these things led me to take an international studies class in college and study the Arab-Israeli conflict. After completing research on that topic in sophomore year, I discovered the anti-Semitism in the Middle East was at a horrendous level and that it was resurfacing in Europe. At this point, it’s important to note that because of my upbringing, the way the Jews are treated is naturally linked to my own identity. Because my identity was forged in such a way that I think honors their legacy, anti-Semitism personally affects me, even though I’m not Jewish.Â So anyway,Â this prompted me to change my major from what was then film to International studies, create a pro-Israel organization on campus, and then, you know advocate for Zionism and for pro-Israel sentiment in the college scene.
SK: Now you know, haters gonna hate.Â There are going to be a few that will look at Chloe Valdary and say, “it’s probably all a publicity stunt.”Â In fact apparently one or two bloggers have taken a similar negative tone.Â What’s your come back?
CV: Yes there have been those weird annoying old men who name their blogs after repairing the world and do the express the opposite, who have seen fit to attack me and what I do. In terms of a comeback, to be frank, I’m not sure they’re worth responding to. I think many of them waste their time attacking me and attacking what I do and calling it, as you said, a publicity stunt, but I think my work speaks for itself. I think the best response I can ever have for them is to just continue doing what I’m doing, and to pursue the truth and to sanctify life. That’s the best way to silence the haters. Sanctify life.
SK:Â Life in America today is already a challenge for so many.Â There are economic hardships, and many Americans have so much on their plates that it’s hard to give attention to social problems right here, never mind in other countries.Â Why should Americans care about what’s going on in the Middle East?
I love this question because it’s a crucial one, and I think the answer to it is lies in the crux and in the heart of what Zionism is. So Zionism is a universal principle which posits that the freedom of the Jewish nation ought to be pursued and promoted and upheld. Now the beauty of civil rights is that when you advocate for the civil rights of one people, you are by definition advocating for the civil rights of all of humanity. And I think that’s a very American principle that we as Americans can all relate to. It’s a sort of variation of E Pluribus Unum.Â In this way it is not that the Jewish struggle for civil rights is somehow removed or detached from the American experience. It is at heart of the American experience, that constant striving for freedom and liberty which is what the American experience is centered around. And just like it’s true that civil rights for one people means civil rights for all, whenever those rights are threatened as is often the case with Israel, all of us are threatened. We saw this when people who came out of the Middle East attacked us on 9/11. That was proof that our fates are inextricably linked and that we are truly fighting the same battles. So we have a stake in each other’s struggle for freedom and we have a moral obligation to stand up for each other whenever that freedom is endangered.
SK: Some think the current conflict is very lopsided, and that Israel should back off.Â What’s your take?
CV: I think any cursory view of the conflict would elucidate some very simple facts: The Jewish nation is one that has been repeatedly persecuted and expelled from their land throughout millennia. They have had to undergo multiple expulsions and occupations of their land throughout the centuries. What we’re seeing is merely another variation of that play out before our eyes. Where it becomes an aberration is that the progeny of the original colonialists and imperialists which came out of the 7th century ADÂ –which consisted of an Arab/Turkish Islamic conglomerate that subjugated ethnic minorities as it conquered the middle eastÂ – are actually claiming they are native to the land of Judea. Yes, you heard that right. The children of original colonizers are claiming they are indigenous and are also claiming that the actual natives are colonialists. So we’re seeing this gross deliberate inversion of reality that unfortunately has become axiomatic truth taught on college campuses. But one must understand the Arab-Israeli conflict in the greater context of the totality of Jewish history, else they will likely believe in something inaccurate. Once people understand the Jewish people’s history, that it did not begin in 1948, and they are indigenous to the land in question, I believe they will begin to comprehend the conflict greater, and moreover, the great cause that is the Jewish struggle for freedom.
SK: Last week you posted a video where it looks like you may have been physically attacked by a Palestinian-supporting protestor while others in your group were singing a Hebrew song, Ose Shalom (Make Peace).Â Really, Chloe, is it worth it?Â You’re a young college student living a pretty good life here in America.Â Why risk your own life for this?
CV: Yeah, like what an experience! I mean to be honest, it could’ve been worse, but yes the struggle for freedom is always worth it. Dr. King once said that if a man has not found something so dear that it is worth dying for, then he is not fit to live. For me, this is that struggle. And I could never live with myself if I, being compelled by my conscience to act, refrained from doing so because I was afraid of the repercussions. Freedom does not come by opting for comfort. It comes with great risk. But it is always worth it, because the end is moral and just.
Learn more about Valdary and her work at http://chloesimonevaldary.com/